pennswoods: (221B Baker Street)
Since moving to Sweden, one of the other things I find really aggravating and where cultural norms clash is in student email requests. As I mentioned in my last post on education in Sweden, educational socialization is different from that of the US. There are no titles used and there is an emphasis on democratizing education such that students are meant to have a greater say in the system. This leads, I find, to more demands of accountability from the students to the teachers which take the form of more accusatory emails than I am used to getting from students in the United States. The below is an example of one I received today from a student who was put out that she/he bought the wrong books for class and wants me to explain why I changed the reading list at the last minute. I did not - she/he was obviously looking at an outdated reading list, but the fact that she/he felt entitled to ask that I justify myself is what I find grating.

Hi!

I would just like to ask why you changed the course littratture list in the last minute. Because I thogut I had bought all the books. But now i turns out that I have the book "Test your pronunciation" by Michael Vaughan-Rees and i do not have "The ins outs of English pronunciation" by Sylvén and Liss Kerstin!

I like to know why becasue it said the first book until like a week ago and I bougt all the english books to part 1. And the books are not cheap, so I really would like to know why, I could have used that money for food instead of a not needed book.

From Future Student

******************

On bad days, when I'm feeling really stressed out, this type of email angers me. Rationally, I also know that some of what I am encountering are differences in expectations and perhaps linguistic and pragmatic norms because my students are having to compose these emails in a second language. (Though I do get a fair number in Swedish as well). This is where being able to dig deep and compose a compassionate but informative response is necessary, even when the email puts me in a bad mood. And this takes some mental space. Fortunately, I am done with teaching/observing for the day so I was able to compose the below response, which I think is sufficiently understanding and informative (and also requires the student to maybe look up a few words).

My response behind the cut... )
pennswoods: (Sherlocked)
I just completed my first week of teaching observations where I had the chance to observe my students teaching in 7th, 8th and 9th grade classrooms (the pupils were 13, 14 and 15 respectively). Some things stood out, and I'm not sure yet if I'm seeing a trend that signifies Swedish educational norms, or if this is just a few isolated cases. Some of what I noticed were other issues that I think are more universal:

1. In my first class (9th graders), I sat next to a group of boys who misbehaved. Two were clearly bored and unmotivated, but the third was dealing with something else. He wore a hoodie that nearly covered his face and sat hunched over his iPhone, fiddling with it the whole time. He had no paper, no books, no computer. He made eye contact with no one. Never have I seen a student so closed off. The student teacher was trying to get him to do the work and got him a computer and other things, but even that didn't seem to matter. I was getting such a strong feeling from him that something was wrong, I almost wanted to cry. I spoke with the teacher afterwards. It turns out that the boy had lost both his parents in the past few months and the fact that he even bothers showing up to school is a victory of sorts. I don't think my student teacher knew this, but he handled the boy gently. However, this made me think how working with the problems of children and all the trauma they can face is another part of a teacher's job. I don't know that we prepare future teachers sufficiently for dealing with this.

2. In my second class, (7th graders), I observed that all the students had the same pencil, shared a common eraser and wrote in identical notebooks to do their in class activities. This made me think of the first class where all the students had school issued laptops for working on. At one point, a few of the students had filled up their notebooks and the teacher had to go to the supply closet to get more. This is when I realized that students weren't required to supply their own school supplies like paper and pens and pencils. It's all provided by the school/the city. I observed the same thing in today's school. This stands in such contrast to the long list of school supplies that US parents have to buy for their children at the beginning of the year and the increasing tendency in some places for parents to have to raise money to buy other supplies for under-funded schools (e.g. tissues, toilet paper).

3. None of the classes I have visited have more than 20 students in them.

4. Every school has a large kitchen and coffee room with sofas and magazines and tables and chairs for the faculty to have lunch separately from students. This is completely separate from the staffroom where teachers have desks and computers and copiers and other supplies. The break room/lunchroom is not meant to double as a workspace.

5. No uniforms. None at all. None on the teachers either. Teachers with piercings and tattoos have no problem and are not required to cover or remove these as they would in many US public schools where such body modifications are considered unprofessional and distracting. There are also US school districts and schools where teachers are not allowed to wear knee length boots with skits because they are too sexy and distracting to male students (Philadelphia), where teachers cannot wear headbands because the students are forbidden from wearing them as they can signal gang affiliation (San Antonio), where teachers can wear black or blue patent leather shoes but not red patent leather shoes because they are too sexy and distracting to male students (San Antonio).

6. Everyone is on a first name basis. Students refer to their teachers by their first name. I was introduced by my first name. There is no Ms. or Mr. anybody going on. I wonder if the students even know their teachers' last names.

7. There are people on Tumblr and in fandom who are 14 and 15, quite visibly so. Sitting among a groups of 14 and 15 year olds today made me think of these fans and see them as really, really young. I normally observe fan interaction online through my own lens. It's been 25 years since I was 15, and I really wonder just how false my memories of my 15-year-old self are. At the same time, there are 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds whose ages surprise me, and I don't know how much harm we actually do to young people by forever sequestering them with people the same age. How is a teenager ever to learn how to be an adult if they are kept away from adults (who are not their parents?) The pressure of the peer group is so merciless, and I appreciate that online fan communities are a place where teenagers and adults can mix.

8. There is no security when going into a Swedish school. I made arrangements for my students to meet me in a certain location so I can find the classroom. But I do not ever have to check in at the front desk, go through a metal detector, have my bag searched, file a background check with the police, or have to wear a badge identifying me. Some of the teachers I spoke with today shared their experiences visiting American schools (where any combination of these things is the norm) and expressed discomfort and horror at the process.

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pennswoods

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